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Book details history of world-famous locomotive

KENOVA, W.Va. — Tim Hensley has lived a life around railroads.

The former vice president of CSX, he has worked as a locomotive engineer, served as the public relations representative of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and was an engineer for Amtrak.

Now retired, he currently runs The Trainmasters House, a bed and breakfast on Chestnut Street in Kenova.

Along with his partner, graphic artist and photographer Ken Miller, Hensley has taken his hands-on experience and written a series of books for his company, Pocahontas Productions.

“We specialize in local history and railroads,” he said.

The latest, “3 Times a Lady,” details the saga of the world famous Norfolk and Western Class J, No. 611 engine, from its service to its 2014-2015 restoration and resurrection.

The book is packed with vintage color and black and white photos, many never before published, the authors have collected over the years, as well as oral histories and anecdotes about the locomotive. Hensley’s expertise comes across in the book’s extensive detail and research on his subject.

Hensley recounts the coming of the Class J locomotives, which were used on classic trains for freight service in the Tri-State, beginning in the 1940s.

The No. 611 was one of two engines used to pull candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower through the region in 1952, on the first of his two successful campaigns for the presidency. A photo of the retired World War II general’s stop in Portsmouth is included in the book.

He tells of the severe wreck in South Point June 24, 1953 the engine was involved in, in which its front end and nose were dented.

Tragedy struck in a more serious accident in 1956 in Mingo County, West Virginia,

“An engineer, Walter Willard, was killed,” he said of the crash which also injured 25 after the train overturned on Cedar Curve.

The engine was retired in 1959 after its final run and Hensley details the efforts to save it from the scrapyard and the restoration efforts, which were completed this year. The engine is currently in a museum in Virginia and has limited excursions.

The book ends on a personal note, with a vignette in which Hensley tells of going down to the station in Kenova with his father to watch the Class J engines come in.

Copies of “3 Times a Lady” are available for $35 from Pocahontas Productions at Depart F, P.O. Box 384 Kenova, WV 25530 or 304 633-8512.